You've probably seen evidence of devotion to Mary in our society — you may have seen the shrines that adorn backyards across America, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe dangling from the rear-view mirror in a taxicab, or statues or icons of the Virgin Mary in people's homes. Perhaps you've wondered what is at the heart of this love for the Virgin Mary.
The phenomenon of devotion to the Virgin Mary is wider and deeper than you may imagine. Apparitions of her are reported to have occurred in every country in the world, spanning the centuries, and crossing cultural barriers. She has inspired more artistic renderings than any other woman in the history of the world and has nudged the pens of poets, the hearts of kings, and the history of nations.
Her influence even extends to our gardens. Did you know that in a very simplistic way the flowers and plants in your backyard witness to the history of Marian devotion, with its many peaks and valleys? Originally, flowers and plants were named for ancient pagan gods and goddesses. In the medieval era, hundreds of them were renamed with Marian names, which helped the faithful to draw close to her even in the fields. Think about the names of marigolds, lady's slippers, and Madonna lilies. After the Reformation, when devotion to the Virgin Mary was curtailed, these flowers were again renamed — or in some cases, their connection to Mary just became more subtle, so that only a serious devotee would be able recognize the connection. For example, the Milk Thistle was known before the Reformation as “Our Lady's Milk Drops,” and forget-me-not was known as “Our Lady's Eyes.”
Think of this book as a quilt of the Virgin Mary with many squares stitched together to tell the story of the history, legends, art, culture, and controversies that have been connected to Mary. Most of us know only our own square; by stepping back from that one square and glimpsing the whole quilt, we have an opportunity to glimpse the whole — to see patterns, shapes, and possibilities that may not have been apparent before.
It is an exciting process of discovery to learn how people have related to the Virgin Mary throughout the ages, how her presence has inspired and transformed lives, how her very being has helped Christianity to connect with the patterns and seasons of Earth, and how we can be strengthened as we face the great mysteries of life — birth and death.
As we remember the way that Mary walked through these thresholds, we find courage as we face our own thresholds. We see that there is more to life than meets the eye, that only by stepping back to see the whole can we begin to see patterns in the ways in which devotion to Mary crosses cultures, spans seasons, and transforms lives around the globe, both historically and in the present day.
If we come to Mary with humility, with an open and seeking heart, we are sure to learn something, no matter who we are and where we come from. This book discusses so many cultures and peoples. For some of us, it may help us to better understand our spouses, our in-laws, our neighbor's devotion and it may help us make sense of the bewildering variety and intensity of devotion to this lady whose life, in so many ways, still remains a mystery.